I was flicking through the numerous golf stuff in my inbox – old habits die hard and I like to think I’m keeping tabs on things, even when I’m not really – and something stopped me in my tracks, jaw dropping (which would be good for singing if under control), screeching ensuing, inelegant, unedifying in the extreme. You wot/WHAT? You’re kidding me…
I don’t pay much attention to prize money these days – one advantage of never having played golf for a living – but the figures at the Zozo Championship caught my attention. It is an official PGA Tour event, held at the Narashino Country Club in Chiba, not far from downtown Tokyo. There’s a select field of 78 players, not including Patrick Cantlay, the defending champion, who won the title last year (in California) nor Tiger Woods, who won the inaugural event (in Japan) in 2019, to equal Sam Snead’s record of 82 US tour titles. There’s no Cantlay nor Woods this year but there is a lot of dosh – shedloads, not to put too fine a point on it: $9.95 million in total; $1,791,000 for the winner and $1,074,600 for the runner-up. And no cut.
Bonkers. Absolute bonkers.
You’ll recognise a lot of the names but it’s hardly a stellar field and I believe it’s official money. It’s another world but isn’t it just a case of the rich getting richer with no regard for what’s happening further down the food chain? Hideki Matsuyama, the Masters champion, is there, so no doubt the Japanese are happy but, really, do many of us care who wins the Zozo? Apart from the champion, his family, agent, bank manager, sponsors?
I’m a great believer in golf for everyone (in theory) and last Saturday I was putting that theory in to practice, playing with one of the brothers-in-law and one of the nephews at a course I’d never played before (and never heard of – and neither had most of my golfing friends). It was good value – 20 quid for 18 holes – but maybe that was because our tee time was 1406 and they didn’t think we’d make it round before dark (they were right!)
The West Midlands club, near Solihull in Birmingham, set in wonderful rolling countryside, has so much water that there are as many fishermen as there are golfers but one of its holes, “The Devil”, is a par 6, apparently the UK’s longest hole. We played it from the yellow tees where the yardage is 666, the devil’s number. It’s 725 yards from the tips and 565 from the reds. Stroke index 1 not surprisingly and, in all honesty, long, dull and boring.
The boys both had strokes and the hole was halved in seven. Nothing very distinguished about it but there you go. None of us was at our best but (boast alert) I was the only one to finish with the ball I started with. “There’s not that much water,” the nephew told me before we played but frankly, dear reader, he was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. He and his Dad impressed me with the capacity of their golf bags: could anyone really have that many golf balls with them?!
It just goes to show, though, that, like the possession stats in football, the number of balls lost is not necessarily indicative of how close the match actually is. We played outright wins (skins) and the handicapping was so good (fair) and my putting so dodgy (flawed) and the opposition so bloody competitive (expected) that we had to keep going to the bitter end (in the dark).
Everything hinged on the last hole, a shortish par 3 modelled on the 17th at Sawgrass. Standing on the tee we could see nothing much at all, bar the water we had to carry and the lights of the clubhouse. It was all a bit of a mystery. The first two balls splashed in to the water, so it was down to me, all to play for. I made decent enough contact with the ball and then listened, anxiously…where had it gone? What on earth was happening? There was no splash, thank goodness, just a dull thud, a vague noise that indicated the ball had hit land not water. Phew!!! Bragging rights retained – just.
A couple of days later I played at Enville (keep going until you find it, it’s well worth the detour) and it was a joy to realise that the bad shots at the weekend hadn’t just been down to me: every now and again I hit something that approached a golf shot – and we avoided most of the rain. Maureen and I were overrun by Anita, as you’ll read in more detail but it was great fun and even the senior moments had a happy ending.
Sitting in the spike bar afterwards, having ordered tea and something, I was looking for my earrings when the awful realisation dawned that I’d probably thrown them away into one of the rubbish bins, along with a load of broken tees. By this time it was chucking it down but I headed out, umbrella in hand, to root in the bin at the 1st tee – it’s not too far from the 18th green – where I’d deposited my rubbish.
There were some odd looks from the guys leaving the 18th – after all, why would some old doll sans clubs be rootling in the bin at the 1st, juggling an umbrella. To retrieve her earrings, of course. What else? There’s a lot more to golf than meets the eye. Or the ear.